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What Do Girls Actually Learn?

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook is quoted as saying, “I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to be told she has leadership skills!!” The fact that one of the most prominent business women in the United States must assert this in the year 2013 is a testament to the influence of society on inequality. Certainly, access to basic education is not the major issue in the United States. Public, private and even structured home educational programs are available to and required of all children. So, Western society offers education to girls. The question, however, is what do they actually learn?

Education begins with parents and early childhood education may also include child care and pre-school. So before children begin their formal education, experience, culture and expectation have molded them, gender roles established. Boys are expected to be rough and tough, play with cars, and be noisy; whereas, girls are expected to be nice and agreeable, play with dolls and keep quiet. If a child does not fit the mold through nature, nurture will steer him or her toward societal norms. Based on these norms, confidence and self-esteem is developed and pressure toward norms has the potential to devastate a child, boy or girl, who does not naturally fit that mold. Think about it, though. As a child you are socialized to be something you may NOT be…and, if you’re a girl, be quiet about it.

As girls get older, things don’t change much. Granted, on the surface, this is stereotypical but there is some basis in truth, so please bear with me. Studies have shown that the louder, tougher, more aggressive boys raise their hands more often to ask and answer questions. Receiving attention and praise, they continue this behavior, overshadowing the more agreeable and quieter girls. This type of interaction results in girls receiving less attention and praise, therefore, fewer opportunities to increase self-esteem. Because of this tendency and issues of attraction/distraction in pre-teens and teenagers, some studies show that girls perform better in school when they are educated in single-sex classes. The recent emphasis has been on increasing the number of girls pursuing an upper-level education in math and sciences, majors from which girls have been notoriously absent. I often wonder why this is suddenly news because this has been an issue since the inception of education, “explained” through any number of ignorant and erroneous theories. It is apparent, however, that the gap exists due to some level of psycho-social influence. As the extremely shy girl who knew the answers and rarely raised her hand, theoretically, I may have benefitted from a few single-sex classrooms.

Focusing on issues that uniquely affect the education of teenage girls, dating violence, pregnancy, bullying and rape stand out as just a few. According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 22.4% of women first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the year 2010 alone, the number of live births to teenagers resulted in 350,000 live births to girls. The majority will suffer wide-ranging interruptions to their education.

Teenagers are increasingly affected by bullying and cyber bullying - the use of the internet and technology to deliberately and repeatedly harm others in a hostile manner - is fast becoming the preferred method. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, females are more often the victims of cyber bullying and are more likely to experience social or psychological bullying. Interference with education is just a small consequence as, all too often, cyber bullying elevates to a sexual nature. Alarming are the stories of teenage rape victims who discover videos of their rape shared across the internet resulting in extreme forms of harassment and worse. At least two girls in North America (that I know of) have committed suicide as they find little support from authorities. It is clear that the increasing incidents and cruelty of cyber bullying will have long-term effects on the education of girls in Western society.

The major barriers to the education of girls in all communities in the United States are directly related to society. Certainly, the barriers are not necessarily blatant, literal barriers to the education of girls. Unmistakably, however, the path toward equality is lined with deeply-rooted barriers, whether obvious or more subtle. The struggle continues for me and many others at a grassroots level through awareness and education; and at a higher level through action and legislation. For the sake of all, we must continue along the path and steadily break down each barrier to equality with full awareness of the next obstacle.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Ruth Bech's picture

Yay!

Argh..., I'm green with envy! I'm coming to nick your laptop before the last assignment :)

I would willingly give you my computer but I'm pretty sure your is working JUST fine, Ruth!

Riya's picture

Girls and Boys

Thank you very much for sharing such a beautifully written piece with us, Caryn. I agree with you what you're saying about teaching our kids at an early age. Gender discrimination can start as early as putting our children in pink or blue clothes depending on their sex.

My husband works with teenager moms and dads with Early Headstart and is constantly talking about how much what we teach our children can effect the way they treat themselves and others, and how ostracized and discriminated against teen parents are despite doing wonderful jobs.

Great Job. I look forward to reading more from you.

Riya

Jumi's picture

I hear you loud and clear

Caryn, yours is a necessary voice and your contribution helps drive the need for change in gender disparities both in developed and developing countries. You are not alone. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.

Caryn Dudarevitch's picture

Thank you, Jumi! I am very

Thank you, Jumi! I am very passionate about global inequality! I guess it shows!!
- Caryn

Hesychia's picture

Societal Inequity

Yes! Girls often are socialized to remain in the background and not be loud. And gender discrimination continues. What kind of legislation would you see changing the playing field? Where would you alter the educational system to support girls and young women in developing their full potentials as leaders?

I am excited about your grass roots approach and waiting to hear more!

Hesychia

Thank you, Hesychia! I have to mention, generally, I don't agree with much Facebook HQ has to say, but I do agree with Sheryl Sandberg on this point - from day one, we need to support the ideas of our young girls, as well as do boys. Lately, I've been seeing T-shirts (random, I know, but it says a lot) with different inscriptions for boys and girls (boys, be the hero; girls, find your hero). On my FB page, I call these things out, in addition to horrendous inequalities, in order to educate my "fans" and it seems they are talking more and more! They are understanding that inequality still exists in the US and globally and I can see action from them. So, the "trickle-down" theory seems to be working and I am dedicated to guiding them toward service and/or voices of their own. It's working so far and I am proud of that!

I am also not a supporter of mass quantities of legislation but it is very clear, at this point, that laws must keep pace with technology and when they do not, swift action must be taken. Had laws been in place to deal with sharing crime images, the two rape victims mentioned in my journal entry may not have taken their own lives.

Much love!

Hesychia's picture

Legislation

Yes, Caryn, I believe legislation needs to keep up with technology. However, I'm not sure there would be a way to enforce a law that would have stopped the shaming and bullying that occurred to these young women. That speaks to a different issue entirely. The images were probably sent at a time when the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or simply the pressure of the moment. Such quick access to posting things has opened an entirely new level of bullying. Laws can't mitigate that ~ education and compassion can.

I am grateful for your work and your thoughtfulness!

Hesychia

akaneko's picture

Hi Caryn, Thanks so much for

Hi Caryn,

Thanks so much for sharing! Your journal entry provides us with some great background data to support your arguments, which speak to me on multiple levels. I just attended a meeting the other day about women working in technology, and so many of the young women expressed things similar to what you've stated: they felt that they had been taught to be quiet and passive and therefore have not had access to the same opportunities and upward mobility as their male counterparts.

Keep up the great work!

Alison

Thank you so much, Alison! Very important as we continue to evolve!
Much love!
- Caryn

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